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Exploring the relationship between vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension in L1 Arabic learners of English

Alkhudiry, R. (2018) Exploring the relationship between vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension in L1 Arabic learners of English. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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Abstract/Summary

Developing a large enough vocabulary is an essential element in L2 acquisition in order to be able to read and write and participate in various topics of conversation. It is also assumed that reading is an important skill for academic success in first language (L1) and second language (L2) learning (Elley, 1991; Pulido, 2003). Many studies have focused on the contribution of vocabulary size to reading in L1 and L2 (e.g., Nation, 2006; Hsueh-chao & Nation, 2000), and conversely, on the extent to which learners can learn words incidentally from reading (Horst, Meara & Cobb, 1998; Waring & Takaki, 2003; Pigada & Schmitt, 2006). However, we know much less about the relationship between the depth of vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension (Qian, 2002). Jiang (2000) proposed a three-stage model of lexical development in L2: at the first stage, the L2 learner’s focus is on the formal aspects of the word, then at the second stage the L1 meaning and syntactic information is transferred into the L2 lexeme, and at the last stage, the L2 semantic syntactic information can be integrated into the new L2 lexical entry. Study 1 focuses on a) exploring which aspects of words (meaning, form and use) L2 learners can retain through reading, based on Jaing’s (2000) model, b) how depth and size of vocabulary knowledge can explain variance in reading comprehension performance, and c) whether frequency of occurrence explains learning and retention of new words from reading. Two offline tests were used to measure depth and size of word knowledge among 30 L1 Arabic learners of English and 30 native English speakers, and one online lexical decision task measured form recognition. The target words were four non-words which replaced four existing nouns in two stories from the YARC reading comprehension test. The results show that the L2 learners are better at retaining word forms than word meanings of these non-words. Vocabulary depth (knowledge about a word’s meaning and use) explains a significant variance in summarising the stories from the YARC. The target non-words occurring more frequently (eight times) have positively explained the form recognition of these words, however, this appears to decline over time for the L1 Arabic learners of English group. Study 2 is an intervention study, designed after obtaining Study 1 results in order to examine the role of a specific technique in explaining L2 retention of the meaning of new words among 40 L1 Arabic learners of English. It is based on Laufer and Hulstijn’s (2001) Involvement Load Hypothesis (ILH) and examines how an elaboration task (ET), as a post reading activity with high involvement component, can improve L2 readers’ retention of the meaning of new words. Based on Jiang’s (2000) model, it further aims to investigate connections between L2 words and conceptual representation, and particularly whether the group which had carried out an elaboration task with these target non-words were better at gaining the L2 lemma than those who had not carried out this task. It also investigates whether frequency of occurrence explained students’ ability to learn words from reading. The same two stories from the YARC were used, in which the same four target non-words replaced existing words. An offline test was used to measure knowledge of meaning and use of the target non-words and one online Semantic Priming Task measured respondents’ accuracy and speed in recognising the meaning of target non-words. The regression analysis shows that an ET with a high involvement component significantly contributes to L2 learning and retention of the meaning of new words. Based on Jiang’s (2000) model, L2 learners could link the L2 meaning to the L2 English form, but this seems to disappear one week later. In terms of the ET groups, L2 who took the ET involving the target non-word continued to link the L2 lemma semantic information to the target L2 form, but this also appears to decline over time. Target non-words occurring more frequently are better retained, however, this disappears one week later. These findings have significant theoretical and pedagogical implications for enhancing L2 vocabulary learning and retention.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Treffers-Daller, J. and Laws, J.
Thesis/Report Department:School of Literature and Languages
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Literature and Languages > English Language and Applied Linguistics
ID Code:77710

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